Yellow Rubber Duck
“Daddy, come pway with my duckies!” Finn called out as Jaxon reappeared in the open bathroom doorway, having answered a call just a few minutes before. Extended bath time was a bit of a luxury because of how quickly we usually had to be out the door in the morning, but the band was playing two shows in three days, so we were enjoying the little bit of down time.
He smiled as he shoved his phone into the back of his jeans, squatting down in front of the tub and reaching out for one of the many rubber ducks floating on the water. “Can I play with this one?”
Finn nodded, selecting another duck to play with as Audra took a small bucket and poured water over the waterfall contraption stuck to the wall so that she could watch all the wheels turn and I sat on top of the closed lid of the toilet and watched with a goofy smile on my face.
It was times like these that made me wish I had kids of my own, because no matter how tense my relationship with Jaxon had been up until about two days ago, there was nothing quite as heartwarming as watching him play with his kids. He absolutely adored them, not that there was ever any doubt in that department, and I honestly wished he believed in his parental instincts more because he was a natural.
“Big plans tonight?” He glanced up at me as he maneuvered his rubber ducky around the tub.
Technically speaking, I wasn’t off duty until the twins were asleep, and by that time, I knew I’d be too exhausted to do anything, but I nodded anyways. “Yep. I got a hot date with a book and a cup of hot chocolate.”
“Living the wild life, huh?” he laughed, leaving the duck alone and sitting back on his heels, turning his neck to face me.
“Always,” I grinned, glad we’d gotten to the point where we could have conversations like this. It had only been a couple days since his apology, but Jaxon seemed to be genuinely making an effort to be interested in my life and I appreciated the thought. “You going out with the boys tonight?”
I knew the answer even before he shook his head. Benji had mentioned earlier that there was a bar he wanted to check out and he was excited to go because it had been awhile since he and the boys had painted the town red. But of course Jaxon would find a reason to stay home. “You should go.”
“What?” He lifted his eyebrows in surprise, wiping his palms on his jeans and standing up straight, probably startled that I had the confidence to say something to him that sounded like an order.
“Out with Benji and Peter.” I repeated firmly, knowing Trey wasn’t feeling well and probably wouldn’t join them. “You should go.”
“Why not?” I stared at him pointedly.
“My kids, for starters,” he glanced at Finn and Audra, who were now in the midst of splashing each other with water.
I managed to resist the urge to roll my eyes. “I can handle your kids on my own.”
“You know how hyper they get at night,” he replied lamely, and I could tell he knew he wasn’t going to win this battle.
“Funnily enough, I do,” I laughed, pushing myself to my feet, “because I’ve been with them for the past three weeks. Plus, the hyperactivity only lasts for like thirty minutes and then they chill before they crash.”
“I don’t know…” he crinkled his nose in uncertainty, shoving his hands into his front pockets.
“Come on,” I smiled softly, lifting my shoulders in a shrug. “You should definitely go. When was the last time you got to hang out and be young and alive?”
He quirked one eyebrow upwards and pursed his lips. “Are you saying that I don’t have fun?”
Yes. But there was probably a better way to phrase it. “I’m saying that you could stand to have more of it. Go out with your friends and get wasted and come stumbling back here at three in the morning. Just because you’re a dad doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your twenties. They’ll be gone before you know it.”
Pondering that extremely sage advice for a moment, he nodded slowly before narrowing his gaze in my direction as though he’d realized something fishy about this entire situation. “You say that like you’re middle aged.”
I grinned, placing my hands on my hips like I was a superhero. “Just wise as hell.”
“More wisdom from your mother?” He asked the question quietly, as though he wasn’t sure it was appropriate.
But I didn’t mind; of course thinking about my mom made me feel a little sad, but I would never move forward in life if all I did was feel sorry for myself. So I kept my smile wide to assure him that his words hadn’t upset me in the slightest. “That one was a Divya Gupta original. Next time, I’m gonna charge you.”
Pressing his lips together, he attempted to hold in a laugh, but ended up chuckling anyway, shaking his head in defeat. “Fine. I’ll call Benji and tell him I’ll be ready in ten.”
“Good,” I nodded triumphantly, reaching over to grab the nearby towels so I signal the end of bath time to the twins.
Flashing me a smile, he blew a kiss in his kids’ direction and exited the bathroom to find a change of clothes, calling out over his shoulder, “Thanks, DG.”
The use of a nickname left me momentarily stunned and I wondered if over the course of the past few days, we’d progressed farther in our relationship than I’d realized. Returning his smile, I turned towards the tub and shook out one towel. “Alright, sweeties, who wants to get out first?”
Audra volunteered, so I picked her up over the edge of the tub and wrapped her in the towel, rubbing her hair dry with the open ends and doing the same with Finn a few moments later before gesturing for them to head into the bedroom to change out of their swim trunks and into their bedtime clothes.
Jaxon was lacing up a pair of black boots when we entered, glancing up and smiling instantly at the sight of his children using their towels as capes as they raced into the room.
“Hey!” he grinned, holding out his arms for a hug one both his shoes were tied up. “Come here, babes.”
He pressed a kiss to the tops of each of their heads before looking at them seriously. “I’m going out with Uncle Pete and Uncle Benji, so I won’t be here to tuck you in, but you two be good for Divs, okay?”
“Okay!” They sang out in almost perfect harmony. Their father had trained them well.
Widening his smile, he pulled them against his chest to hug them one more time. “Good. Give me a goodnight kiss.”
They obliged by kissing him on each cheek and he returned the favor before standing up straight and heading towards the bedroom door, nodding gratefully at me. “Thanks again, DG.”
“No worries,” I replied, glad that he was finally getting to blow off some steam. “Have fun.”
“Love you guys,” he called out to the twins as he opened the room door and stepped into the hallway with one final wave.
I turned back to the twins with a smile on my lips. “Alright, how about we get you into your jammies and brush your teeth and I’ll read you a bed time story?”
Agreeing with wide grins, they raced towards the suitcases to find their pajamas and forty five minutes later, the three of us were snuggled into bed, me the farthest to the right as I lay on my side and red to them from Green Eggs and Ham, a nighttime ritual which was interrupted by a knock on the door.
Furrowing my brow in confusion because as far as I knew, Jaxon wasn’t expecting anyone, I told the twins to stay put as I swung my feet to the floor and padded towards the knocking to check it out, lifting my eyebrows in surprise when I pulled open the door to find Trey on the other side.
“Hey,” I said, stepping aside to let him in. “What are you doing here? I thought you were sick.”
“Nah,” he shrugged, shoving his hands into the pockets of his basketball shorts as I shut the door behind him. “I just wasn’t feeling up to going out. I figured I’d come by and see if the kids were still awake.”
“You’re just in time,” I smiled, formulating a plan as I gestured for him to follow me towards the master bedroom. “We’re about to get to the best part.”
I could tell he wanted to ask what the hell that meant, but I didn’t give him the chance as we entered the bedroom and I grinned at the twins. “Hey, guys, look who’s here! It’s Uncle Trey!”
“Unca Lu!” Finn squealed, squirming beside his sister beneath the covers. “You come to say ni ni?”
“Yep,” I replied for him, unable to control the smirk which kinked my lips. “He’s gonna sing for you.”
If looks could kill, I’d be dead on the spot and I pressed my lips together to hold in a laugh as he stepped towards me and lowered his voice to speak. “What the hell?”
“Oh, come on, dude,” I encouraged him, patting his arm supportively. “You’re a professional singer.”
“Yeah, but I usually have prep time for that,” he sputtered out.
Rolling my eyes, I crossed my arms over my chest and fixed him with a solid stare. “How much prep time do you need to sing a lullaby?”
“It’s just a lot of pressure,” he sighed, flashing the twins a smile because they were staring at us curiously.
My stare turned into a glare. “You’ve literally performed to sold out stadiums of thousands.”
Deciding there wasn’t any point in arguing further, a good move on his part, he let out a heavy sigh and immediately stretched his lips into a smile as he stepped towards the bed. “Alright, who wants to hear a song?”
The twins clapped their hands together excitedly and cheered and half an hour and two Disney songs later, they were fast asleep. Trey and I tiptoed out of the room, leaving the door slightly ajar and taking the baby monitor with us as we entered the common area, letting out breathy laughs.
“Thanks for doing that,” I said brightly, clutching the baby monitor in my hand. “I know I kind of sprung it on you.”
“Yeah,” he laughed, shaking his head and reaching up to scratch the back of his hair. “Well, I think they liked it.”
“Definitely,” I nodded, “Hey, I’d offer you a beer or something, but I don’t think Jaxon keeps alcohol in the room.”
Trey quirked one eyebrow upwards, a smirk playing at his lips as he turned towards the refrigerator, pulling open the door and reaching into the far back corner to pull out two bottles of Corona and smiling triumphantly. “You sure about that?”
“Oh,” I said lamely. “I guess I just assumed because I’ve never seen him drink.”
“He probably just doesn’t want to do it in front of you,” he laughed, finding the bottle opener with practiced ease and popping off the tops. “He does have a certain reputation to maintain, you know.”
“I guess,” I agreed with a soft laugh, accepting the beer with a grateful nod and making my way to the couch, wondering if I was breaking all kinds of rules. I shouldn’t be drinking on the job, I knew that, but the kids were asleep and they slept like rocks, so they wouldn’t wake up until the morning. And if they did, one beer wouldn’t be enough to impair my judgment as to what to do if they needed any sort of attention.
On the other hand, I wasn’t sure that spending time alone with Trey was such a good idea, mostly because I got the sense that he had something more in mind for us than just friendship. Technically, dating him wouldn’t break any unwritten rules because he wasn’t my boss, but I’d still blocked out the idea of even going there. Of course, I liked him; he was sweet and charming and constantly had my back and he had hypnotic eyes and a smile that could make anyone blush, but surely being more than friends with my boss’s best friend was wrong on so many levels.
“So,” he said after taking a sip of his beer once we’d settled against the couch’s suede cushions. “You seem to be in a very good mood.”
My eyebrows lifted in surprise as I brought my bottle to my lips. “Am I not usually in a good mood?”
“No, it’s not that,” he smiled slowly, rubbing his teeth against his lip piercing as he formulated what he wanted to say next. “You’re just happier than normal.”
I supposed that was a fair statement. “Yeah, well now that I’m no longer constantly worried that I’m on the verge of getting fired, I’m a lot less tense.”
Being sort of friends with Jaxon had made my life so much easier. I didn’t feel as though I had to win him over all the time or that if I made a mistake, I’d be packing my bags, and that freedom was exhilarating.
“What are you talking about?” Trey furrowed his brow in confusion. Apparently these best friends didn’t share as much as I thought.
A swig of beer was needed before I could respond. “Jaxon apologized for being harsh with me about the paparazzi incident and ever since then, things between us have been so much better. Sometimes I think he might actually like me.”
“I’m sure he does,” he assured me, the tension dissipating from his eyes to be replaced with twinkling amusement. The corners of his lips curved upwards as he took another sip. “Wow, that’s great, I didn’t think he’d actually do it.”
I blinked. “Do what?”
“Apologize,” Trey looked at me pointedly, as though I was supposed to know what the hell he was talking about. “I told him he was being a huge dick to you, but he rarely takes my advice. I’m glad he did this time.”
I blinked again, putting all the pieces together. “So this sudden change in attitude is your doing?”
“I don’t know about that,” he laughed warmly, genuinely not taking credit for what happened.
“Well, I feel like I should buy you a drink or something as thanks.” More than likely, he had more of an impact than he realized. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jaxon taking his best friend’s scolding to heart was what earned me that apology.
Smiling gratefully, I reached out to place my hand over his, only to realize that was a ridiculously stupid move on my part because his eyes sparked at the physical contact.
“I can think of something else that would work just as well,” he muttered, his gaze dropping to my lips as he leaned towards me. It actually took quite a bit of willpower for me to swerve my head away because I actually was curious as to how kissing him would feel, and I felt the knots in the pit of my stomach tight a bit at the look of absolute mortification which crossed his face at my rejection. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry, I thought I felt something between us and I must have completely misread the situation.”
“No, no, it’s okay,” I assured him, squeezing his hand again and wondering if I was still sending the wrong message. I didn’t want him to think I was disgusted at the thought of kissing him, because that wasn’t true at all. “I felt it too, it’s just…I just think it would be a really bad idea.”
He seemed intrigued by that statement, the horror slowly draining from his expression as he tilted his head to the side and came to the realization that my rejection of him didn’t actually have anything to do with him. “How come?”
“Because I work for Jaxon” I explained, glad he was so willing to understand, “and that relationship is already hanging by a thread, and the last thing I need is to make it more complicated.”
There was a moment of silence as he drained the rest of his beer and then nodded. “Fair enough.”
Scrunching my nose apologetically, I removed my hand from his and tapped my nails against the side of the bottle. “Are we good?”
It was a lame question considering everything that just happened, but I didn’t want to lose Trey as an ally.
“Yeah, we’re good,” he smiled softly, setting the now empty beer bottle on the coffee table. “I should probably get going, though. I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight, Divya.”
Pushing myself to my feet, I followed him to the door, waving goodbye as he stepped into the hallway. “Goodnight, Trey.”
As I shut the door behind him and went back to curl up on the couch and finish my beer, I wondered if Trey really was that cool; if things between us could really go back to the way they were. I hoped so, for all our sakes, because I didn’t want the warmth of my relationship with Jaxon to finally be increasing only to have my one with Trey become arctic level cold.
I sipped the drink slowly, setting the empty bottle on the table next to Trey’s when I finished a half hour later and stretched out on the couch, using my arms as a pillow as my eyes fluttered closed, only to be awakened with a jolt at the sound of the door opening what felt like thirty seconds later.
“Sorry,” Jaxon smiled sheepishly as he stepped into the room, shutting the door as quietly as possible behind him. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s alright.” I blinked a few times to sharpen my senses and sat up straight. “How was it?”
“Good,” he replied, seeming a bit off balance as he unloaded the room key, his phone, and his wallet onto the desk pushed against the wall, which was understandable, considering how his evening was spent. “I haven’t done that in a while and it felt…it felt good.”
“I’m glad,” I grinned, meaning every word. “You deserve to have some fun.”
Laughing, he turned to face me, shoving his hands in his front pockets, his eyes becoming more focused with each passing second. “How was your night? The kids go down okay?”
“Yep. They were angels.”
His grin widened as our gazes held for an amount of time which caused my heart rate to pick up slightly. He broke the staring contest before it got to the point where he’d be able to hear my heart pounding, his gaze landing on the coffee table and the two empty beer bottles. Something flickered in his eyes, I wasn’t sure what, but the brightness in his expression dimmed slightly as he spoke. “Did you have company?”
“Uh, yeah,” I stammered out, feeling as though I had been caught cheating on my husband. “Well, sort of. Trey stopped by to say goodnight to the twins and we had a beer afterwards. I know that’s completely inappropriate and…”
“Nah, its fine,” he cut me off with a shrug.
“It is?” I lifted my eyebrows in surprise, because the tenseness in his jaw would suggest otherwise. “You don’t mind?”
“Why would I mind?” he replied breezily, pausing for a moment to take a deep breath before fixing me with a sincere stare. “Look, you were right about me not having enough fun and I don’t want you to get the impression that you’re not allowed to enjoy yourself. You’re good with my kids and I know you’d never willingly endanger them, so as long as they’re safe, I want you to have some fun of your own.”
“Okay…,” I said slowly. “Thanks.”
Pressing his lips together, he nodded and turned towards the bedroom door. “I’m exhausted so I’m gonna crash.”
Taking that as my cue to leave, I swung my feet to the floor and began the search for my shoes and phone and room key, wiggling my fingers in a wave when I found all three and pulling open the door. “See you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight,” he said quietly, holding my gaze for one more moment before disappearing into the bedroom and closing the door behind him. I exhaled shakily as I stepped into the hallway, closing the room door quietly and padding towards my own room a few doors down, wondering why it was that I was disappointed that Jaxon wasn’t jealous.